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How Do You Clean Out an OmniFocus Database That Just Simply Became a Dumping Ground?

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OmniFocus Dumping Ground

One of our OmniFocus Premium Posts customers recently wrote in to ask:

I’m trying to get back on the horse with OmniFocus, after purchasing OmniFocus Premium Posts. Fantastic stuff, but I have a question, which might lead to a valuable blog post: How do you clean out an OmniFocus database that just simply became a dumping ground? I was thinking about using the Excel trick you discussed.

Let’s find out how we do just that.

In OmniFocus Premium Posts, we talk about something called the Excel Trick which helps people get their OmniFocus setup done right, the first time.

The particular sticking point that this customer had was that he had a lot of links and information stored in the notes section of his tasks in OmniFocus – and he didn’t want to lose those as well.

After some back-and-forth with Thanh, he worked out the innovative solution of printing out his OmniFocus setup to give him a high-level overview of all his tasks, and then crossing out anything irrelevant and updating his OmniFocus setup based on that.

I want to give you an alternative to doing that – because if you have a large OmniFocus setup, you could end up with a whole stack of paper doing that. I’m going to use a modified version of the Excel trick (because it’s the best way and because I am an absolute Excel geek).

1. Back up your existing database, in case something goes wrong.
This should be obvious, but go to File > Back Up Database and save it somewhere first. Better safe than sorry.

2. Create a Custom Excel Sheet that looks a bit like this.

OmniFocus Dump Custom Excel Sheet

For full details, see OmniFocus Premium Posts.

Now apart from the basic categorizations we mention in OmniFocus Premium Posts, you can add extra columns to your Excel sheet, for Notes or any other metadata like Contexts that you want retain in your new setup.

3. Input the data.
There are 2 option for this. You can just go through your OmniFocus setup project-by-project and copy-paste things into Excel.

Or, you can get a bit geeky and select your Library, turn off all your filters, then go to File > Export > CSV and generate a CSV file of all your data. Now this will give you a HUGE amount of data, and you’ll have to delete some columns to make sense of it. But it is much faster than manual copy-pasting.

4. Filter, Sort, Delete.
Go through the Excel sheet and use Excel’s filtering and sorting functions to remove anything irrelevant. There are 2 approaches to this.

You can simple delete anything irrelevant.

Or if you want to get a bit geeky, you can create an extra column in Excel and title it “Irrelevant” and put a little “x” in that column for any action that you would otherwise delete. This lets you preserve the data, and when you get to the next step, you can simply use filters to hide those entries.

Irrelevant Filter in Excel

5. Start a virgin OmniFocus database and do it like your first time.
Errr ok.

Don’t try to import the CSV you’ve modified back into OmniFocus – it’ll likely end up a mess.

It’s better to start fresh with everything, and create a new OmniFocus database (remember, you have a backup in case something doesn’t work out).

This process is outlined in detail in OmniFocus Premium Posts, but remember to actively filter out anything that is no longer relevant, and to set project statuses to hold as necessary.

And that’s all there is to cleaning out an OmniFocus database that’s become a dumping ground of tasks and miscellany.

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